Distracted driving is described as any activity that adverts a driver’s attention from the road. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are three categories of behavior that qualify as distraction:
- Visual: Activities that advert the driver’s eyes from the road
- Manual: Activities that remove a driver’s hands from the wheel
- Cognitive: Activities that distract or divert a driver’s mind from driving
Meantime, improper vehicle cell phone usage contributes to nearly 30 percent of all traffic accidents. Here are three of the most dangerous smartphone tasks people perform while driving and a few tech-based strategies you can use to avoid or prevent distracted driving.
The grandfather of all phone-related driving sins — before cell phones offered texting and Internet capabilities, anyway — talking on the phone was the most dangerous task to perform while in the driver’s seat. In fact, it significantly diminishes a driver’s cognitive abilities while driving, particularly if you are engaged in an emotional conversation. Drivers entangled in an highly emotional, in-depth phone conversation have been found to drive as hazardously as drivers who are intoxicated.
In some states, driving while talking on the phone is illegal, though distracted-driving laws change rapidly and vary from state to state. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to gain familiarity with various state-by-state safe-driving practices. Websites like driving-tests.org offer practice tests unique to each state and which are based on specifications in each state’s motor vehicle department manual, ensuring they’re always up to date and accurate.
But consumer advocates and manufacturers have also stepped to the plate. Hands-free connectivity and voice controls are offered by virtually all auto manufacturers in an attempt to counter the reckless activity. These controls usually involve a Bluetooth connectivity package, allowing hands-free management of your phone and media devices. Today, more advanced voice-activated controls and features are becoming readily available, allowing you to use voice commands to manage not only your phone, but also internal vehicle systems, including your navigation system, climate control and radio.
Texting and surfing the Web are likely the worst offenses to commit while driving, because both activities hit all three categories of distraction — visual, manual and cognitive. If you make a habit of texting or Web surfing while driving, expect to end up in one of two places: a hospital or jail — and that’s if you’re lucky. Though Washington was the first state to ban texting while driving, the prominence and frequency of these types of accidents has resulted in 45 states adopting similar laws.
Some retailers are getting ahead of the curve. Sprint’s Drive First app disables many smartphone functionalities when it detects someone is driving. In fact, the app will lock a driver’s cell phone screen and send all calls to voicemail when they’re behind the wheel. Likewise, anyone sending the driver a text message will receive an auto-reply, indicating the driver is unavailable. But the app won’t disable everything: Users will be able to access three phone contacts and three apps, like GPS, music or weather apps.
Though no states have specific laws banning taking selfies while driving, it’s certainly creating plenty of discussion and debate, with many lawmakers and opponents believing the activity is worse and more dangerous than texting. The practice of holding up your phone, angling your face into camera view, and pressing the right button to snap a photo can be tricky, even when not operating a moving vehicle. Still, many drivers will attempt to pull it off for nothing more than Instagram glory.
To prevent this activity, pre-collision systems, which use radar to anticipate frontal collisions, can be installed in vehicles to help drivers react to unavoidable approaching situations. These systems will warn drivers if an accident is likely to occur before activating the vehicle’s braking system and tightening the driver’s seat belt if they do not course correct. Indeed, this activation could be priceless when trying to drive one-handed and holding your selfie stick in the other as you sway into oncoming traffic.